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Government & Politics

Open Letter To President Buhari: Is This All You Can Achieve In Your First Term Of Your Second Coming In Office?

Buhari
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Often, people usually talk about the first 100 days of a president’s achievements in office. In many countries, it has now become a standard yardstick to gauge the effectiveness of the  president in getting his or her new policies passed. It is indeed an indicator of the performance of the presidency. The first 100 days is so important in a democratic system of government. It is a period that welcomes the new change as everybody is in the mood of accepting new ideas, programs and policies that will move the country forward. There is hardly any serious opposition to the new President’s policies during this period. The period is usually regarded as that of grace or honeymoon. Smart presidents usually capitalize on this period to get their policies pass into laws. A good example is in the US, President Obama  got his affordable health care passed into law during this period; now popularly known as –Obamacare.

The President usually enjoys the goodwill and support of the general populace during this period. Usually this is the best time, in fact the most conducive of any presidency to push their agendas through with minimal opposition. The underlying truth is that presidents tend to be most effective when they first take office, when their leadership style seems fresh and new, when the wind of change fills the air and aura of victory looms large and when their impact on Congress is usually at its best. If the new president misses this grace period, he finds it difficult to regain it and get his agendas passed through. This is because after this the grace period of 100 days or so has passed, it thus start to wane; every one of his new policies will now go through intense  scrutiny and assessed through various lenses— partisan, tribal, religious, personal gains, sub and regional dominance and in the case of Nigeria, hardly national.

The 100day yardstick was established by Franklin D. Roosevelt of the United States in 1933. According to analysts, while it is not a perfect measure, it is viewed as a useful standard for gauging presidential effectiveness and success. According to some presidential historians, there is nothing spectacular about the number, and many presidential aides over the years have complained that it is an arbitrary yardstick. However, it has been used as a barometer by the presidential historians, the public, the media, and researchers as a gauge of presidential success in office.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) was sworn in as the president on March 3, 1933, the US was faced with the catastrophic state of depression. In addition, there was mass unemployment. The unemployment rate stood at about 25 percent. There was also the problem of inflation, bank failures and widespread loss of confidence. Banks were shutting down. Account holders were losing their life’s savings. Businesses were running out of enough cash to keep going. FDR had no choice but to address the problem head on. FDR said in his inaugural speech March 4: “This nation asks for action, and action now. Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. I am prepared under my constitutional duty to recommend the measures that a stricken nation in the midst of a stricken world may require.” Kenneth T. Walsh  Contributor Feb. 12, 2009,

During this period, FDR began experimentation of different methods to curb the Depression; mass unemployment and if they failed, he tried something else. Eventually, his strategies worked!  His success in winning congressional approval became the model for future presidents in dealing with Congress during the first 100 days in office.

President Buhari may not be The FDR: The problems he currently faces in Nigeria are similar to what President Franklin D Roosevelt faced when he took office in 1934. Presently in Nigeria today, there is a high rate of unemployment, massive inflation, acute non-payment of salaries, and starkly lack of both local and foreign cash flow. There is no regular Power supply, Portable water, Security and Standard road network in other words, basic amenities.

Many people have started to wonder whether the current democratic process can really be operated effectively by this president with a military background and save the nation from the brink.

Unlike FDR’s 100Days, President Buhari has a much longer grace period of one year to address Nigeria’s teething problems. It is unimaginable for a worker or family to be without a monthly salary for six months. This is a serious egregious problem that needs to be addressed urgently.  The implication of non-payment of salaries makes it impossible for people to afford reasonable basic needs for their upkeep, welfare and health care. In addition to this, is the massive unemployment and lay-offs. These problems need to be nipped in the bud before they get out of control.  IF these problems are not address urgently, the nation will witness a number of untimely deaths, gradual erosion of the middle class and distrust of this government that was once much awaited for as the new hope.

In order to restore public confidence, transparency and fair play to everybody, let the President, Governors, Senators, Congressmen, Local chairmen and all Civil servants be on the same salary pay schedule.  It is then that they will honestly be able to carry everybody along the burden of government civil service. The current situation that puts elected official on a different salary pay scale and schedule from civil servant is nothing short of double standard or oppression at the least. The democratic system we practice today finds expression in the political satire of George Orwell’s Animal Farm: “All animals are equal, but some are more equal.” We have to live up to the ideals of our National Anthem—“-a Nation where no man is oppressed.”-1960, and “a Nation where peace and justice shall reign”-1978.

We all know that President Buhari did not create all these problems. It is a lot of sacrifice for him at this stage of his life and instead of staying with his beautiful family, chose to once more try to lead this country aright. However, one cannot but wonders how a career military officer with military background that once ruled this country with draconian decrees-(absolute powers) is now at the helms, navigating the intrigues of democracy with Senators and Congressmen some of who were still in their diapers when he first came to office,  December 31st, 1983.

Nigeria became an oil producing nation in 1957, and later becoming world’s sixth largest producer of oil and natural gas. Nigeria benefited most during the Gulf war of the 1990s. Despites the huge amount realized during this period there is nothing to show for  it in terms of infrastructural developments to transform Nigeria into a modern society with basic amenities such as first class road network, good running water, electricity and health care for all.

It is noteworthy to mention here that, nearly all our leaders have at one time or the other visited the Western World. While there, they enjoyed the plush comfort of all the basic amenities -good roads, water, electricity and health care.  It is troubling to note that it did not seem to occur to any of them to replicate these basic amenities in Nigeria with the exceptions of Awo in the West and Yakubu Gowon who started to modernize Nigeria in the 70s by building modern road networks, rural electrifications for areas that were not connected to the national grid and gave salary increase with perks that engendered new lease of life and better working conditions for workers. He managed the economy that trickled down to everybody; nearly all hospitals, schools and universities were running smoothly. Jobs were readily available for graduates of all cadres. As a youngman growing in Nigeria at this period, one was filled with hopes and optimism; it seemed Nigeria was the best country on the planet. There was no need to go abroad except on visits. Looking back to how little we have achieved and all  that we have gone through over the years, it will not be an overstatement to say that Gowon should have been left in office for another forty years. It is often said in some advanced countries, that their better days lie ahead or in the future, but in Nigeria, sadly, our better days were behind us or in the past.

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President Buhari, you got this job again for over a year now, there is no time to waste. The problems are enormous and mounting. Among many of these daunting problems- two of them stand out that need urgent attention now, massive unemployment and nonpayment of salaries. Confronted with similar situation in 1934, FDR said in his inaugural speech March 4, that “his  task is to put people to work.” In order for the President Buhari to address these problems of mass unemployment and nonpayment of salaries head on, he needs to embark on Nation building, first and urgently, by building road network across the nation NOW.

From history, nearly all advanced nations of the world first started by investing in road building. They embarked on road building for the primary purpose of addressing the issues of acute mass unemployment, economy and nation building. The end product of their actions paid off as they were able to put many people to work and stabilized their economies. They developed superb road network infrastructure that are regularly maintained across their entire nations. Road building started in the ancient Rome, and the modern history shows the Germans built their Super-highways–autobahns in the 1930s. The Americans under General Dwight D. Eisenhower was captivated with the German highway system which influenced him to embark on massive construction of the interstates highways in the United States. We have seen how new developing nations and emerging economies  have also started by investing on building roads.

This is an opportunity for President Buhari now to start on nation building by constructing modern highways. Start by constructing new and dualizing (dual carriage ways) all trunks A and B roads across the nation. This is a shovel-ready project that will instantly put people to work. Employ credible indigenous and foreign road construction companies that will construct modern road networks with Rest areas. These will provide instant employment for millions of young and able-bodied across the nation.

The benefit of road construction cannot be over emphasized as it will bring jobs to every corner and nook of Nigeria instantly. Consider that nearly all road contracting firms pay their worker weekly or by weekly. It will instantly jump-start the current stagnant economy by putting money into peoples’ pockets. Road construction provides both direct and indirect employments.

Road construction provides direct employment for highway construction professionals such as road firm employees – road engineers, designers, tractor operators, managers, accountants, clerks, specialists, drivers, quality controllers, skilled, and unskilled laborers, etc.  The local area for the road construction usually provides the catchment zone for the unskilled laborers thereby ensuring job opportunities for the locals.

Road construction also provides indirect employments also. These include supply of materials for the roads such as cement, sand, asphalt, bitumen, quarry, iron rods and metals fabrication industries. There will be supply contractors for the road materials and equipment. Also importantly, are the local foods and water supply industries-from the local farmers to the food Canteens and fast foods for workers.

Also most importantly is the maintenance Department. The maintenance culture is what Nigerians need to cultivate both individually and institutionally. As individual needs to maintain their houses so also is the government. The road maintenance Department will provide jobs for hundreds of thousands on permanent basis for the new highway network.  This will replace the mundane Public Work Department- PWD.

In general, workers in this road construction will subsequently spend and invest their earnings in the immediate local communities thereby generating economic activities across the geographical areas, which will have ripple effects on state, and national economies. It will also provide thousands of road construction related incomes and jobs such as housing and transportation. It will also create a large number of new roadside related businesses.

The implication of this is that it will relief both Federal, State and Local governments from the acute stress of youth unemployment by providing jobs. Can you imagine a youngman who played by the rule and upon graduation from university has no job? The situation is both frustrating to the young man as well as the parents who have invested so much into his education. We must realize that a hungry man is an angry man, a jobless angel can be turned into an unwilling devil; without addressing this problem urgently is as if we are sitting on a keg of dynamite.

Gainful employment will curb spate of robberies and other nefarious activities that exist as a result of unemployment. Providing jobs will restore a sense of purpose and wellbeing to individuals. Earnings from the road construction will  jump start the economy,  improve standard of living and quality of life for all in a number of dimensions that are not readily addressed in this article. Road construction will generate the revenues that will stabilize the economy that will form the bedrock upon which other government programs will be built such as  agriculture and mining all of which need good solid road for transportation.

For President Buhari, there is a discernable pattern of governance and achievements between the way he governs now and the first time he came to office between 1983 –85 which was characterized with Probes- money laundering, War Against Indiscipline and loss of jobs due to downsizing in other words Lean and Mean Workforce. While the intents may be altruistic and noble at both times, the middle class is being crushed economically due to lack of employment, loss of jobs, and in many cases non-payment of salaries. It presents a state of sacrifice with a hope of a better morrow which many may not even live up to reap the dividends.

It is time to change the strategy by doing something new and bold that will assuage the plight of workers and the middle class. The middle level will benefit immensely by investing on road building head on. Mr. President, probes alone will not cut it; the ordinary man is neither directly affected by probes nor money laundering, all he needs is job and he needs it now.

President Buhari, if this is what you can achieve in your first term of your second coming in office, people that voted for you will not be disappointed as it will be regarded as substantial investment in nation building and also an observable project that will go a long way to justify your second coming. It is the easiest and most achievable nationwide project while other challenging projects such as regular Power and Water supply, may follow later.

Failure to embark on Nationwide Road Construction will be another missed opportunity that will be catastrophic and regrettable.

Dr. Tony Fagbemi, writes from the United States.


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